Jacob LaDuke served with the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan in 2002 as an A-10 crew chief. Here, LaDuke explains one of his first nights at Bagram AFB and his near fatal brush with a big ol' Canadian transport. — Ed.
In August of 2002, I was deployed to Bagram AB in Afghanistan. It was my first deployment, ever. Back then, Bagram was still a "bare base". This means it was VERY primitive. PVC pipes in the ground to pee in, port-o-potties for downloading the MRE's we ate twice a day, water who's temperature changed depending on the time of day because it was in a giant bladder, etc. We also had a lack of a full perimeter around the base, so it had the feel of an old West town.
When we arrived, it was early in the morning, somewhere around 1-3 a.m. local time. It was dark. PITCH. BLACK. Now, we expected it to be dark, we had modified our aircraft with some extra night vision lights so the pilots could see. We didn't expect to walk into the set from the Vin Diesel movie.
You could hear jets running, but you didn't see them. How the hell were we going to fix an airplane when it broke?! Like a pack of half-assed MacGyver wannabes, we made due and improvised.
Our parking situation was really messed up. We were parking on a taxiway that was just wide enough to for two A-10s to taxi down next to each other. That would have been fine if we didn't also need to park six other jets on that same taxiway, have room for our fuel trucks, and ground equipment. Oh, and at the edges of the cement that comprised the taxiway there some land mines left by the Russians.
After a day of watching our counterparts from the 23rd Fighter Wing Flying Tigers (yeah, the Shark faced A-10s), we figured some stuff out. Even though we couldn't make out the jet while it was taxiing at night, we could kind of see it's silhouette, so we laid out glow sticks on the taxiway where we needed to turn the jet to park them or when we were sending them out on a sortie.
One particularly moonless night I was launching out a pilot whom I'd made friends with. His callsign was "Chunder." After we got the jet started and pre-flighted, we had to wait a few minutes because the other flight was coming back soon and they didn't want to crowd the ramp (remember those land mines?).
How we worked was two jets would go out for a mission, as two jets were coming back from a mission. I think on average, I put down four glow sticks to mark my turning points. Multiply that by four and there were an assload of glowsticks on that taxiway.
As "Chunder" and I are bullshitting about what they were going out to do tonight, the sky lit up. I looked around the nose of the jet and saw two landing lights, one above the other, heading towards the base. A very odd occurrence, as I had NEVER saw any aircraft land at night with it's lights on. A few seconds go by and the airfield lights up. "Chunder" and I both said, "I didn't even know the runway had lights on it!"
About that time, the landing lights became horizontal and we realized it wasn't two jets. It was one BIG jet that had banked almost 90° to come to the runway.
A C-130 was landing at Bagram for the first time. The pilot called the approach and the tower told him he was clear to land. When the tower noticed the C-130 wasn't heading for the runway, they asked him if he was sure he had the runway. He replied, "Yeah, I've got your lights."
The only light on the airfield, were the 16 glow sticks we put down on the taxiway, at least half a mile from the runway. The tower told them to turn to the right a bit, which they did and centered up on our glow sticks. The tower had to yell, "YOU'RE ABOUT TO LAND ON EIGHT A-10's! BANK RIGHT!" That's when we saw the sky light up and the runway lights come on.
The C-130 indeed banked hard, hard enough that when he was over the runway, he was about halfway down the length of it. He kicked the rudder hard and had a bad yaw to the right (opposite lock in the aircraft world).
He bounced off the right main landing gear back into the air, got oppo to the left and bounced off the left main landing gear. Now he hit full reverse, 50 feet in the air and slammed that thing down on the runway with very little left to spare. "Chunder" and I said a bunch of holy shits, WTFs, & OMGs (no BBQ's). We guess we were about 30-45 seconds away from having that thing land on top of us. I sent him on his way and finished out my shift.
That 130 offloaded right next to the spot I launched "Chunder" from. I made it a point to see who's bird it was (identifying tail code, etc). It was a Royal Canadian Air Force C-130.
The next morning (afternoon because of my schedule), there were some more of our guys at the base. After talking to them, they had come in the night before and were talking about the combat landing they did and how cool it was! I asked them what they flew on.
A Canadian C-130.
I told them the story. They were not amused.